Album review- Zola Jesus

Album review- Zola Jesus 

By Kaitlan Maissen

It’s tricky to attempt to label the sound of Zola Jesus. Automatically one might presume she swims in the vein of industrial, or at least post-industrial. This is true in some regards, but when you listen to and analyze her music, and as you progress through her discography, you come to realize she’s a little more complex than that. As you make your way through her catalog, and include singles and features with other artists, her sound not only becomes more concrete, it evolves to include other genres such as R&B and synth-pop. However, my favorite part of Zola Jesus, and something that sets her apart from other acts that live within the same catacomb of sound, is her voice. It is deep, dramatic and reverberating, as if it bounces through the chambers of the heart and explodes against your ribcage. She doesn’t just utilize her voice to relay lyrical content, but rather as a focal instrument. It’s very nearly unfathomable that such a huge voice comes from a woman who is only 5 feet tall and maybe clocks in at 100 pounds.


Most of her albums have a low-quality feel to them, as if they’re a mass collection of demos. I believe this to be intentional, as if she wants you to focus on the gritty, real music she’s making rather than be swept away by production. More recently, however, Zola shifts away from the raw and allows her work to be more heavily produced, filled with cleaner, electronic cuts. This is not a bad thing by any means, it’s just different and showcases how she’s evolved. Her most recent album, Taiga, released in October 2014, is the primary example of this. The title track Taiga, and subsequent Nail, are the only songs on the album that remind me of her previous work, as if they sit there, an ode to the past. The rest, sound wise, is by far the most up-beat and fast-tempo album of hers to date. The track Dangerous Days, is an anthem song in the way of creating a feel-good, danceable vibe coupled with powerful, take-back-the-night lyrics. I have listened to it probably a hundred times or so. Many of the remaining tracks have the BPM of traditional R&B, and utilize synth and drum kits to solidify this feeling. This latter part of the album’s vibe is difficult to compare to another artist. If you have to choose one thing to describe Zola Jesus, it would have to be “unique”.

All in all, I adore Zola Jesus and anything she does. While this album may differ from her others, it’s still a wonderful body of work, and an enjoyable and powerful one to listen to. Do yourself a favor, no matter what of hers you choose to listen to: make a music womb in your car or use quality {over the ear!} headphones and listen to her as loud as you can tolerate.

I also can’t even begin to describe what Zola Jesus is like live. I have been fortunate enough to see her twice: once at an impromptu set at Amoeba Records on Haight Street in San Francisco, and again at The Creators Project in 2012. The former was a rather bizarre experience; Amoeba records {for those who have not been or who have not been to this particular location} is a vast open-floor of row after row of records, cds, and cassettes. A mecca for music collectors and fiends, if you will. Tucked away into a corner and seemingly forgotten unless there’s a performance, is a small stage. With only about twenty people actually watching her performance, Zola Jesus opted to weave herself around each person, singing and performing as if it were a crowd of ten thousand at an outdoor festival. At The Creators Project she was much different. Her stage was not singular to her, but had to be shared with acts before and after her. However, her dress, demeanor, and manipulation of sound (thanks to the engineer), ultimately set the mood. She thrives off a surrealist element, and I believe her intention is to absorb you in the music and the environment rather than just being a participant bystander. I was being crushed by other humans there to be captivated by her, but it didn’t matter.

Zola Jesus has several upcoming East Coast tour dates in June, if you can make it I would highly, highly recommend seeing her live. You will be moved, shocked, blissful, a little confused, but ultimately will have a heaping plate of fun.”

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